Landmark ECHR ruling scraps obligatory Shariah route for Thrace's Muslim minority in civil matters; justice ministry reax

Thursday, 20 December 2018 19:25
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Greece's justice ministry on Thursday issued a quick response to this week's European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) conviction of Greek courts' handling of an inheritance dispute involving members of the country's internationally recognized Muslim minority.

Based on the landmark 1923 Lausanne Treaty normalizing relations between Greece and the newly established Republic of Turkey - as well as a bevy of other WWI participants - Shariah law is applied to the autochthonous Muslim minority of northeast Greece's Thrace province in civil law matters.   

The European court ruled that legal revisions enacted in 2018 failed to have a retroactive effect on the specific inheritance case, which was adjudicated based on Shariah law, as all of the litigants were members of the Muslim minority. The case pitted a widow against her deceased husband's sisters.

In switching to "damage control", a ministry statement said "those who try to distort the ECHR’s ruling ... are the same people who, for years, have not taken any measures to protect the rights of members of Thrace's Muslim minority.”  

The ECHR ruled that the Greek judiciary had violated the rights of 68-year-old Hatice Molla Sali, whose deceased husband had left her his assets.

Lower courts sided with the widow, the plaintiff, but Greece's high court leaned towards the treaty-prescribed application of Islamic law, vindicating the sisters.

After an outcry in the country, the leftist-rightist government amended the civil law statute, whereby members of the Muslim minority in Thrace can only resort to a Shariah law court, presided over by an appointed mufti (a religious judge), if all the litigants agree. 

The 1923 treaty, among others, obliged the two neighbors to apply the legal systems of the respective religions of their largest minorities - which in Greece's case meant Turkish-speaking Sunni Muslims in the areas lost by Bulgaria and awarded to the country after WWI. The area today is the northeast Thrace province, comprised of three prefectures: Rhodope, Xanthi and Evros, with borders with Turkey.  

Conversely, Turkey was obliged to allow for a Church-based civil law framework for Orthodox Christians in that country, which after 1922 only comprised the ethnic Greek minority in Istanbul and on two small NE Aegean islands.

Radical reforms by the Kemal Mustafa Ataturk saw the scrapping of Shariah in overwhelmingly Muslim Turkey itself in 1923, leaving only predominantly Christian Greece as the only country in EU country to still allow the partial application of Shariah law today.


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